Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, January 31, 2003

Linebacker Mitchell set for happy homecoming

By Brandon Masuoka
Advertiser Staff Writer

South Florida outside linebacker Kawika Mitchell always wanted to make a sudden impact, but not this way.

2003 Hula Bowl Maui

• When: 4 p.m. tomorrow

• WHERE: War Memorial Stadium (23,719 capacity)

• Tickets: $25-$32. For information, call (808) 871-4141

• TV/Radio: Live on ESPN2, KAOI (1110AM)

This past summer, the Hawai'i-born Mitchell survived a traffic accident in Tampa, Fla., where he was ejected from the passenger seat from a car traveling about 50 mph.

"I flew out of the windshield about 30 to 40 feet and landed on the concrete," Mitchell said. "I was pretty lucky. Doctors thought my ribs were broken, but nothing was wrong. They said eight out of 10 people would have died."

Surprisingly, Mitchell only suffered a separated shoulder that required about two months of recuperation. Now healed, the record-setting linebacker and captain of the nation's seventh-ranked rushing defense will strap on his helmet for the Aina team in tomorrow's nationally televised Hula Bowl at Maui's War Memorial Stadium.

The Hula Bowl holds special significance for Mitchell's family and friends who live on the Big Island and have never seen him play in person before. About 40 friends and family, including his brother, Coogan, and father, Charles, are expected on Maui this week.

"I'm very thrilled," Charles Mitchell said. "I'm proud of my son. This is the first time I'm seeing him play ball live. I'm kind of grateful for that."

Mitchell was born in Honolulu and, at age 3, moved to the Mainland because of his father's Army responsibilities. When his father returned to Hawai'i in the late 1980s, Mitchell remained with his mother, Judy Wilbur, in Florida.

Mitchell said his Big Island family and friends saw him play once on national television when South Florida played Oklahoma on Sept. 28, 2002.

In the 31-14 loss against the Sooners, Mitchell had a breakout game, recording 14 tackles, five for losses, including two sacks and a forced fumble.

It's those types of performances that earned him back-to-back Butkus Award nominations — recognizing the nation's top linebackers — as a junior and senior. Mitchell played all three linebacker positions during his four-year career at South Florida after transferring from the University of Georgia in 1999.

Mitchell finished the 2002 season with a school-record 117 tackles. For his career, he totaled 367 tackles, also a school record.

South Florida head coach Jim Leavitt gushed about Mitchell's skills. He called the Bulls the "most fortunate team in America" for landing the 6-foot-2, 250-pound player.

"He's one of best linebackers I've ever coached," said Leavitt, who has guided the Bulls to a 44-22 record in six seasons, including a 9-2 mark last season. "He's born leader, a tremendous tackler. If I was an NFL team, he'd probably be one of the first people who I would take."

Leavitt said Mitchell never lost track of his Hawai'i roots. He even gave his boxer dogs Hawaiian names, Palu and Kiko.

"He is very prideful about being from Hawai'i," Leavitt said. "For him to have the opportunity to play in front of his family, in front of his home, is an honor. It means everything to him."

Leavitt said South Florida fans, coaches and players can't wait to watch the Hula Bowl.

"A lot of people around here in Tampa and throughout Orlando are going to watch that game because of Kawika Mitchell," Leavitt said. "He is very well known and respected throughout the state of Florida."

Miami head coach Larry Coker, who will coach the Aina team, called Mitchell an impact player.

"We recruited him at Miami," Coker said. "I remember him coming out of high school (Winter Park Lake Howell). This year, South Florida won nine games and had a great year. Kawika Mitchell was a big reason why they won all those games."

Mitchell said he bench presses 410 pounds, has a 36-inch vertical leap and can run 40 yards between 4.5 to 4.6 seconds. He said he would love to get an opportunity to play in the NFL.

"I'm a coachable guy," said Mitchell, who is expecting a baby boy in April with wife Billie McCook. "I can make plays."

Leavitt said Mitchell's car accident gave him a new perspective on life and allowed him to focus on his goals.

"He's a driven man," Leavitt said. "He wants very badly to play in the NFL, and not only play in the NFL, but be one of the top players in the NFL."